EXCLUSIVE: National Portrait Gallery Defends Planned Parenthood Founder Exhibit

By Penny Starr | August 13, 2015 | 12:24pm EDT
Bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger on display in National Portrait Gallery's "Struggle for Justice" exhibit.(CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery has issued a statement regarding a request by a group of black pastors to have a bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger removed from the museum.

CNSNews.com asked the gallery’s press office whether they would honor that request and remove the bust that is part of its “Struggle for Justice” exhibit, or defend its inclusion.

On Tuesday, the art museum issued a statement saying that the bust is in keeping with the museum’s goal to “see the past clearly and objectively” and that while some of Sanger’s beliefs “are now controversial,” her inclusion in the museum’s collection represents the “full spectrum of the American experience.”

“Margaret Sanger is included in the museum’s collection, not in tribute to all her beliefs, many of which are now controversial, but because of her leading role in early efforts to distribute information about birth control and medical information to disadvantaged women, as well as her later roles associated with developing modern methods of contraception and in founding Planned Parenthood of America,” it stated.

“Nonetheless, Sanger’s alliance with aspects of the eugenics movement raises questions about her motivations and intentions. The museum’s intent is not to honor her in an unqualified way, but rather to stimulate our audiences to reflect on the experience of Americans who struggled to improve the civil and social conditions of 20th-century America,” it added.

As CNSNews.com reported exclusively on Aug. 7, Ministers Taking a Stand, a group that is part of STAND – Staying True to America’s National Destiny – sent a letter to the museum requesting that the Sanger bust be removed because of Sanger’s eugenic views and a philosophy carried on even today through her founding of what would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"Perhaps the Gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward black and other minority babies, an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as ‘the feeble minded;’ speaking at a rally of Ku Klux Klan women; and communications with Hitler sympathizers," the letter from Ministers Taking a Stand states.

“Also the notorious ‘Negro Project,’ which sought to limit, if not eliminate black births, was her brainchild,” the letter states. “Despite these well-documented facts of history, her bust sits proudly in your gallery as a hero of justice.

“The obvious incongruity is staggering!” the letter states.

The letter also notes the current scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood with the recent release of undercover videos showing top medical officials in the organization discussing harvesting and selling the organs and other body parts from aborted babies.

“The fact is that the behavior of these abortionists, their callous and cavalier attitude toward these babies, is completely in keeping with Sanger’s perverse vision for America,” the letter states.

According to its 2013-2014 annual report, Planned Parenthood’s affiliated clinics around the United States performed 327,653 abortions that fiscal year – 20,000 more than the population of Pittsburgh, Pa.

The letter also states that 70 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods and provides a link to a map documenting this fact.

And while the National Portrait Gallery did not specifically cite in the letter that eugenics is part of what makes Sanger “controversial,” the signage accompanying the bust in the museum does state her involvement in that movement.

“During her campaign, Sanger became associated with the eugenics movement – which promoted, among other practices, the forced sterilization of those deemed mentally unfit and for a time was endorsed by many of the era’s prominent thinkers,” the signage states.

The entire statement from the gallery can be found here.

According to the Smithsonian Institution's website, taxpayer funding for fiscal year 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014–Sept. 30, 2015) is $819.5 million. The Institution is about 60 percent federally funded (a combination of the congressional appropriation and federal grants and contracts). 

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